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Paddlers’ Code will help people enjoy and protect our waterways

Ben Seal, British Canoeing’s head of access and environment, explains how the new Paddlers' Code sets out the sort of things paddlers do to protect our environment, as well as to respect other river and canal users and enjoy being on the water safely.

October 2022

The Paddlers’ Code, which is a new guide for canoeists, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders, has been developed with Natural England and reflects their work with the Countryside Code.

It has also been written in partnership with paddlers and a wide range of stakeholders who it is hoped will adopt the code themselves.

It sets out the sort of things paddlers do to protect our environment. But also to respect other river and canal users and enjoy being on the water safely.

The Paddlers’ Code is a simple set of good practice guidelines that we hope people will share and use every time they go out paddling. It is not about giving people a set of rules to abide by. It is more about describing the good things we do as a community to paddle responsibly.

We began working on this a while ago, following the refresh of the national Countryside Code. Natural England expressed an interest in working with us to create a code just for paddlers, so we jumped at the chance. It has taken a bit of time, but we wanted to ensure that we got this just right.

There were two main reasons why we think it was needed. Firstly, when you looked around, there was a real mixed bag of guidance and advice for paddlers. There was no real consistency in language, or tone, so we wanted to establish a clear message that everyone could understand and recognise.

Secondly, we have had a huge influx of people into paddling in the last 2 years. The Watersports Participation Survey, in 2021, suggested that a whopping 7.6 million people, across the UK, said that they had either kayaked, used a canoe or a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). British Canoeing also saw a dramatic growth in paddling activities and a 127% increase in membership, since 2020.

It is clear that part of the boom was due to the pandemic. When we were allowed out, we needed to be on, or near water, to feel happier.

Therefore, as our latest members and non-members are new to the sport, this was a great opportunity to set out our responsibility to the environment, to each other and to staying safe.

We have mirrored the Countryside Code with our key messages: Respect. Protect. Enjoy.

Within each of these, we have broken it down into key actions that we can all support. So within ‘Respect’, we talk about how we respect each other and other users. ‘Protect’ outlines the way we can care for and protect the environment. ‘Enjoy’ is all about how we can keep ourselves safe. For many paddlers, these actions will be ‘what we do’ already, which is great! But for others, these things will be new, hence why we have pulled them together in one place.

One thing we have been clear about is that this is not a set of rules. It is not there to be policed, or enforced. A strap line emerged during filming of the promotional video (out soon), which was: “These are our places to enjoy and protect and this is our code”. It summed up what we are trying to achieve with the project. The key message is that the code is ours as a community to own and live.

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Ben Seal is British Canoeing’s head of access and environment, follow @BritishCanoeing

The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.